While the Norwegian students we interviewed for last week’s “Christmas Around the World” article said their families would wait until Dec. 23 to decorate their homes, Danish exchange student Andrea Hamilton says in her home December first was D-day for Christmas decorating.
Hamilton, who is spending this school year as a student at Custer High School, says “We would start decorating for Christmas on the first of December, so you get all the boxes out on the Nov. 30 and go crazy on the first.”
The Christmas preparations even extended to her school according to Hamilton.
“I would always wear an elf hat on the first of December in school,” she says. In addition to the hat Hamilton, would put her hair in two braids and wear lipstick. There would also be a “secret Santa” gift exchange at school.
The celebration of Advent starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas was also important in Hamilton’s home. She says each Sunday the family would light one of the four Advent candles and sing a special song called “Light a Candle.”
“I learned it from my mom and she learned it from her mom,” Hamilton said. During Advent she would also get a small gift in her Christmas stocking every day.
While many in America have an “Elf on a Shelf” somewhere among their Christmas decorations, in Denmark children leave food and gifts out for the elf in the attic (or perhaps in the basement, depending on where one lives.)
“We give it clementines and Christmas candies,” said Hamilton, noting that the tradition is akin to leaving milk and cookies out for Santa in this country.
Hamilton, who attended a Christian school in Denmark says, “On the last day of school we would go to church to hear them talk about the birth of Jesus.”
On Dec. 24 Hamilton says her family would, “Clean and make everything ready for the family to come over. My aunt would do the dessert and my grandma would do the pork. Pork is a big thing in Denmark.”
Christmas Eve dinner would usually consist of roasted pork and duck with brown sauce and brown potatoes, which she says is made by cooking potatoes in a pan with melted sugar and butter to produce a caramelized coating.
Another traditional Danish Christmas dish is boiled red cabbage which Hamilton says “is disgusting.”
Like her Norwegian classmates, Hamilton says on Christmas Eve her family would eat rice porridge made with sweet milk, cinnamon and sugar. Of course, afterwards she would leave a portion of the porridge out for the elf.
At Christmas Danes also eat a dessert called “risalamande” which literally translated means “rice with almonds.” It is made of crushed almonds and leftovers from the Christmas Eve rice porridge.
Hamilton says most of the almonds used in the dish are crushed except for one that is left whole. “Whoever got the whole almond would get a little present,” she says.
The Danish student also speaks glowingly of Christmas confections which are small pieces of homemade candy with nougat, marzipan, melted chocolate, almonds and hazelnuts.
“That’s a big thing with my aunt,” said Hamilton. “We would always make that on the 23rd or earlier and then we would save a whole bunch of it for the 24th.”
“After dinner we would dance around the tree and sing Christmas songs like ‘Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,’” said Hamilton. Following the dancing and singing Hamilton says her family would sit down and open one present at a time which “could take a really long time.”
Christmas Day itself was much more relaxed in the Danish Hamilton home. “On the 25th you would just wake up at your own pace and admire your presents,” she said.
When asked what she will miss most about Christmas at home in Denmark Hamilton was quick to reply, “My family.” So if you happen to see her this Christmas, give her a warm smile and wish her a “glaedelig jul.”